How to Start a Food Truck in Berlin

This is a living document and by no means definitive, but what's outlined below worked for us. If your experience varies or you have something to add, please let us know.

Last updated January 6th, 2013.

Step One

Find a vehicle
In our search, we found the majority of what is available in the €3,500 to €10,000 range is an Imbißanhänger. These are trailers that need to be hooked up to a vehicle. Fortunately, we found a Selbstfahrer that didn't break the bank. Sure, you can spend more, way more, but we imagine if you're reading this guide, you're probably not in a position to lay out €25,000 on a shiny new Ducato. We certainly weren't, and that's why we rolled around in a modified Bavarian pretzel truck for two years.

Some Resources

Some Search Terms

  • Eiswagen
  • Eisauto
  • Eisverkaufswagen
  • Imbißwagen
  • Selbstfahrer
  • Verkaufsmobil
  • Verkaufswagen
  • Verkaufsfahrzeug

Step Two

Find a commercial kitchen
To be completely above board, you're required to prepare food in a kitchen that meets food-preparation standards set forth by the Veterinär- und Lebensmittelaufsichtsämter for your Bezirk (district).

You'll need to show the Veterinär- und Lebensmittelaufsichtsämter your contract with the commercial kitchen in order to get their literal stamp of approval.

Note: An official from this department did in fact stop by the kitchen we rented to make sure it met all the health and safety standards, and probably to make sure it existed.

The kitchen we rented was at a cooking school, where we paid an hourly rate to cook during the school's downtime. In addition to cooking in this kitchen, we were also given shelf and refrigerator/freezer space, which is also a Veterinär- und Lebensmittelaufsichtsämter requirement.

Step Three

Paperwork, paperwork, paperwork
Here's a list of the paperwork you'll need to park on PRIVATE property and legally handle and serve food in Berlin.

FOOD HANDLER'S PERMIT
(Colloquially known as a rote Karte or more poetically referred to as a Bescheinigung nach 43 Abs.1 Nr. 1 IfSG)

Getting this entails sitting through a 90-minute video that goes over food-safety basics. We got ours at the Gesundheitsamt at the Bezirksamt Charlottenburg-Wilmersdorf, Hohenzollerndamm 177, 10713 Berlin. It's basic stuff: wash your hands, don't prep food if you are sick, don't store potato salad in the sun, and don't sneeze on the Schnitzel.

TRANSIENT MERCHANT LICENSE
The Reisegewerbekarte allows you to do business without a fixed location. You can get this at your local Bezirksamt.

NOTE: If you park your truck in the same location for more than six weeks, you are not considered a "transient merchant," and you will be held to another set of standards. This is even if you drive your food truck away from that location each day.

HEALTH DEPARTMENT CERTIFICATE OF INSPECTION
Your vehicle needs to be approved by the Veterinär- und Lebensmittelaufsichtsämter.

After getting your Reisegewerbekarte, you should receive a letter from the Veterinär- und Lebensmittelaufsichtsämter informing you that you're now on their radar and that you'll need to have your vehicle inspected. You can send them an email or call them to make this appointment. Calling is always recommended as a carrier pigeon will beat out an email when it comes to getting replies from gubment agencies.

The minimum must-haves are:

  • A sink unit with two basins and hot running water, including clearly labeled tanks for Frischwasser (fresh water) and Abwasser (gray water), and an additional container for Trinkwasser (potable water)
  • Non-porous work surfaces (stainless steel is preferred, but standard countertops will do)
  • Separate storage for cleaning supplies, food, and aprons and work clothes (Note: all work clothes should be white or light colored)
  • A spit-guard that is tall enough to prevent, well, spit from hitting the food
  • A fridge

IHK-SEMINAR LEBENSMITTELHYGIENEVERORDNUNG ZERTIFIKAT
The IHK Seminar is not necessary, but highly recommended. The course leaders are more than happy to address any questions you may have about your setting up your business.

Step Four

Find Spots
With the aforementioned documents, you are golden to park on PRIVATE property as long as you have the owner's permission. See a sweet spot in the parking lot at your local Kaisers? Head inside and talk to the manager. You might get permission. Other options include Floh- and Wochenmärkte. It's all about busting out that German dictionary and talking to the Marktmeister. Just explain to Herr or Frau Muffel that you are an artisan, and you'll offer something more special than the usual sausage/döner/crepes.

To park on PUBLIC property, you need to contact the Strassenverkehrsamt to obtain a Sondernutzungsgenehmigung. As of this writing, some Bezirks, such as Pankow, still issue these for food vendors; others, like Kreuzburg, do not. You cannot just roll up and feed the meter à la Los Angeles. Well, you can, but you might have some splainin' to do should the Ordungsamt or Polizei catch wind of you. Papier, BITTE!

Things to Consider

If you're going to operate a truck, you're going to need a German driver's license and insurance for your vehicle. Check Toytown Germany for posts about these topics.